API Business Models

APIs4DGov: Digital Government APIs, the road to value-added open API-driven services


Lorenzino Vaccari is senior researcher at the Joint Research Center (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, providing independent scientific advice and support to European Union policy. This inter-disciplinary organisation has six sites in five different countries within the EU and employs over 3,000 people from EU and candidate countries who bring their skills, talents, passion and rigour for scientific activities underpinning EU policy development, assessment and proposals. JRC scientists create and manage knowledge to help address large societal problems by delivering the best scientific evidence and innovative tools. This focus addresses issues relevant to citizens, businesses and governments in many fields, including support for the creation of a Digital Single Market, a leading EC policy, and the challenges posed for society in relation to digital technologies. In particular, the digital transformation of the society and government, the emergence of the digital government paradigm and the recent rise of disruptive technologies such as blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are providing new challenges requiring the JRC’s attention.

Lorenzino Vaccari at APIdays Paris 2018: “APIs4DGov: Digital Government APIs, the road to value-added open API-driven services”

What is the API context at the European level?
APIs facilitate a digital society and digital business by connecting people, businesses and both virtual and real-world ‘things’. They enable new digital products and business models and create new business channels. Public Administrations are in continuous need to adapt to the changing policy and technical environment in order to improve government accountability and social inclusiveness, as well as developing partnerships with a range of stakeholders in both political and economic contexts. They are seeking how to best use data and emerging technologies in such processes in order to realise ‘digital government’. Government APIs may support open government environments, the improvement and creation of new public services, new delivery models and new service delivery channels with the aim to enable new business models and, ultimately, better serve citizens and businesses. APIs support the reusability of software components, enable information system interoperability and improve the reuse of data. Such efforts, to make government data and service assets more open, could be a major contributor to the development of a European Digital Single Market. The APIs4DGov study, itself, is relevant for other EU policies, including the 2017 Ministerial Declaration on eGovernment (Tallinn Declaration), the EU eGovernment Action Plan 2016–2020 and the implementation of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), alongside other elements of the “Interoperability solutions for public administrations, businesses and citizens” (ISA2)Programme. It also explores key principles in this policy context, including the implementation of the Once Only Principle and reinforcement of the Building Block approach adopted in the Connecting European Facilities (CEF) Programme. APIs have also been recognised in the ongoing revision of the “Directive on the re-use of public sector information”, also known as the “PSI Directive”, where “APIs shall be used as a means of dissemination… for dynamic content”.

Within this context, what is the objective of the APIs4DGov study?
With the purpose to gain further understanding of the current use of APIs in digital government and their added value for public services, the European Commission’s Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CONNECT) together with the JRC launched the APIs4DGov study in 2018. The study addresses two main issues: (i) why government should invest in APIs and API strategies and (ii) how government should best do this.

The work is organised into three phases: (i) assessing the digital government APIs’ landscape and the opportunities to support digital transformation in the public sector; (ii) identifying the added value for society and public administrations that digital government APIs can bring (including key enablers, drivers, barriers, potential risks and mitigates), and (iii) providing recommendations and best-practices concerning the deployment of APIs within government.

What is the current stage of the study?
The project lasts for two years and we have already investigated seven specific government API cases from across the European Union. In 2018, we ran a stakeholder survey and a workshop on API strategy adoption by European Public administration. Early results have shown that there is a great interest in adopting such strategies in the public sector and that, when implemented, API uptake can be seen as both rapid and massive. We also identified some emerging opportunities, where APIs can enable digital ecosystems, overcome complex integration of large systems, support open government initiatives and may provide a means to enable economic growth and innovation with, in particular, private sector actors at a national, local and regional level.

What is your exploration field?
We are exploring, in particular, the socio-economic impact of the API adoption by governments. We see that the private sector is very well advanced in the adoption of API strategies and technologies; one reason why we participated in the APIdays conference series. Our current view on the government API landscape has identified around 800 government API cases, of which 200 involve public sector administrations in the European Union.

Our case study selection is driven by different criteria, including exploring examples from different government levels (national, regional and city), different policy/service domains and varying levels of API implementation maturity. We have already investigated on relevant examples from across Europe, including the Estonia X-Road platform, the Denmark Addressers web API (DAWA), Amsterdam city data, Flanders Underground Cable and pipe Information Portal (KLIP) and the Mobility Lab (EMT) of the city of Madrid.

Can you give us some KPI values from those cases?
Estonia’s X-road was created in 1998 for the exchange of information between government and individuals. Today 11,000 active government APIs are connected, 500 million requests are registered per year and over 1 billion transactions. Around 925 institutions and enterprises are connected, including 706 public sector institutions. Estonia has 99% of its government services covered and around 52,000 organisations are indirect users of the X-Road services. All the Estonian infrastructure is based on APIs.

Flanders KLIP (cable and pipe information portal) was created in 2007 in response to a gas explosion in 2004 which results in lives being lost. They collected information from providers in real time to distribute to the users to help avoid this type of accident. Saving lives clearly has an infinite and immeasurable benefit, so estimating the advantages of the programme cannot be only based on financial KPIs.

EMT Madrid (public transportation) created its Mobility Lab four years ago and gets 480 million requests per year. Around 2,500 developers are registered in the system and around 50 apps have been developed. The implementation of their API strategy has created savings in the internal budget through an improved efficiency of the digital information system of the agency.

What are the next steps of the APIs4Dgov Study?
We will work on investigating existent API standards, best practices, guidelines and recommendations for not only the public but also the private sectors. To date, more than 100 documents have been collected and classified for analysis and, eventually, sharing the results with others. The final goal of the study is to support the digital transformation policies of the European Commission and we think that APIs could act as a bridge between government data and the development and provision of more efficient apps for citizens. However, they could do more than that: they can be a great facilitator for meeting reporting obligations (exposing data gathering functionality). One can even envisage transactional APIs enabling mobile apps for applications, notifications, payments etc. They enhance the government-as-a-platform paradigm, where core business processes are shared between and across administrations. Activities in 2019 also include to undertake more stakeholder engagement activities, learning from API strategies’ best practices and work together with the expanding community of those interested in APIs in Europe, and beyond.

Thanks a lot Séverine for the interview and Mehdi to have given me the opportunity to present the study at the APIdays. I would thank Alessandro Annoni and Andrea Servida heads of, respectively, the JRC Digital Economy unit and of the DG CONNECT eGovernment and Trust unit, to champion and sponsor the study. A special thank for my colleagues Monica Posada, Dietmar Gattwinkel, Dimitrios Mavridis and Robin Smith for the collaboration and contribution to the study.

Written by Séverine Godet

This article first appeared on Medium

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